Here’s looking at you, Casablanca

Freshman year of high school, I am sitting in Film 1 along with my peers waiting to watch the next film our teacher wants us to break-down.

The film itself is a classic from 1942. While my peers groaned at the prospect of watching a black and white film, I was rather interested. I thought maybe the film would provide some new perspective outside the blockbusters that I grew up with.

I didn’t know at the time that this film would change my writing and storytelling. The film I am referring to is “Casablanca.”

“Casablanca” is often considered one of the most impactful films of all time. It won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1943.

It is a love triangle story, set during the German occupation of France during World War II.

With the Nazi machine marching across Europe, many were attempting to escape the terror caused by the conflict. Lisbon was one of the few places that offered an escape from the conflict to the Americas.

Casablanca, located in Morocco, is the last step before Lisbon. I’ve always viewed Casablanca as limbo.

Many there remain trapped without a means of leaving. Escape from Casablanca is nothing more than a random gambit.

It is in this place that the story unfolds. Rick Blaine, the protagonist, owns a bar in Casablanca known as Rick’s Café Américain. Rick is a drifter with a streak of fighting for underdogs, but has since become a cynic to a romantic falling out.

With the arrival of the Vichy French and Nazi officials into Casablanca searching for a famous Czech Resistance leader, Victor Laszlo, and letters of transit that were stolen from two German couriers, the story is set.

Rick’s former lover, Ilsa Lund, and her husband are attempting to flee to the United States. Her husband happens to be Victor Laszlo, the same target the Nazis are searching for.

Laszlo is attempting to purchase the letters of transit from a contact, which leads to both him and Ilsa end up in Rick’s bar.

Ilsa, seeing Rick’s close friend and pianist, Sam, asks him to play the song, “As Time Goes By.” As he begins playing, Rick storms out to confront Sam about the song he told him to never play again. Rick becomes surprised once he sees IIsa.

The audience soon learns that Rick and Ilsa once fell for each other while in France, when Ilsa thought her husband died in a concentration camp. The two planned to flee when the Germans occupied France, only for Ilsa to find out Laszlo was alive. She left Rick at the train station once she found out this news.

From here, Rick has to decide whether to help Ilsa and Laszlo while avoiding revealing that he received the letters of transit.

That’s all I am going to say about the story. This film is a great piece of work and deserves to be watched rather than spoiled through my poor retelling.

I love how the script makes the entire cast feel alive and shows how they all have their own motives. It’s also great that each character is layered, and you never know what decisions they are going to make.

One of my favorite scenes in this film deals with the corrupt police prefect, Louis Renault, and a friend of Rick.

In this scene, Renault closes Rick’s bar to avoid confrontation with the Nazi officials. Rick asks why he’s closing the bar.

“I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here,” said Renault.

One of Rick’s dealers walks up to Renault with the prefect’s winnings.

“Your winnings’ sir.”

“Oh, thank you very much,” Renault said.

I remember being one of the few people in the class to laugh at the line. The timing and writing of that scene make it hilarious, but also shows that while we might like Renault, the man is quite slimy and corrupt.

The biggest thing that “Casablanca” taught me though is that films can be bittersweet. I enjoy the fact that despite the hero’s winning, the film is still somber.

Rick has this line he always says to Ilsa, “Here’s looking at you kid.”

The line is often said when their romantic past is shown in the film, when Rick is looking at Ilsa.

It’s simple since it’s referring to their relationship, but it takes a different tone near the end of the film.

Rick says this as Ilsa and Laszlo are leaving Casablanca. In this scene, it’s almost said to show that even if they aren’t together, Rick will always be looking back at their past.

I enjoy that rather somber statement, since while we can’t always win, we can hope for the best.

“Casablanca” has a lot of qualities that make it so compelling to me. I like that the characters are innately flawed, to a human level. They all have their own motives, their goals are all different, and they all have desires that conflict with their goals.

I remember leaving film class that day, and realizing that storytelling is based on relating to that human element. I think that channeling that human element, whether its happiness, comedy, or sadness, is what makes the story relatable, and that’s why “Casablanca” stands out to me.

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